ANNA — Botkins found out Friday night a lot of progress is needed to beat Anna at its own game. The Trojans have adopted a new up-tempo mentality this season, but Anna was too fast to slow down in a Shelby County Athletic League game on Friday.
The Rockets ran away in the second half to win both teams’ season opener 72-46. They led 31-19 at halftime of the Shelby County Athletic League game and scored the first eight points of the third quarter to break any hopes Botkins had of a comeback.
“We weren’t really happy with our play overall in the first half,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said. “We had some plays down the stretch where we didn’t execute. …There were some first-game jitters, too, for our guys that had the varsity uniform on for the first time. Trying to get them settled in was the other part of it.
“The other part was not boxing out. I think we thought we were just going to come into this game and out-athleticisize them. They’ve got athletes too, and we did a much better job in the second half all the way around.”
The Rockets tied with Russia and Fort Loramie for the SCAL title last year and didn’t show any reason to doubt they’re among the favorites this year. Anna’s man-to-man defense forced a bunch of turnovers and the team moved fluidly and quickly on offense.
Bart Bixler led Anna with 22 points while Griffin Doseck scored 18. Doseck, a 6-foot-5 power forward, was able to get a lot of shots in the post. Bixler, a 5-11 guard, was able to penetrate and score as well.
Barhorst was pleased with the way the team played in the paint.
“That’s one thing we said coming into this season, that we need to have inside presence,” Barhorst said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have put on some good weight and have put the pounds on by really hitting the weight room.
“It showed tonight, especially in the second half. Guys like Griffin and Kam Steward and Justin Murray and Bryce Meyer — all pretty thick guys down low for us that can hit the boards. I think we can punish teams like that down low.”
Botkins showed flashes of its quick scoring ability, especially in the first quarter. But the Trojans were inconsistent and struggled to keep up on defense. It didn’t help that senior forward Spencer Heuker and sophomore point guard missed much of the first half in foul trouble.
First-year coach Sean Powell said it was a good learning opportunity for the team to open the season.
“We have a young team, so I knew it was going to be a tough battle,” Powell said. “… The game got away from us in the second half. I thought if we started the third quarter strong in the first three minutes that we’d have a shot. Anna came out of the halftime and adjusted a little bit, and we didn’t respond.”
The Trojans will get a chance to respond on Saturday when they face Parkway in their home opener.
“We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be at,” Powell said. “Everything is still new to these kids. They’ve been doing this for 30 days. We’re putting a new program in. Defensively, we don’t have too many things we can do to adjust right now. We’re not ready to go have fun, like I like to say. But with practice, we’ll get there.”
Tyler Free led Botkins with 14 while Heuker added eight.
Anna jumped out to an early 6-2 lead but Botkins fought back to tie it. Heuker hit a basket off the glass with 4:01 left in the first quarter to cap off a 6-2 run for the Trojans, which tied the score 8-8.
Barhorst called a timeout, and Anna took over from there.
Doseck and Bixler combined to hit 3-of-4 free throws to give Anna an 11-8 lead, then Steward made a layup after a steal with 2:19 left. Bixler made a basket in the paint on a drive, then Doseck followed with a drive and a bucket with 1:15 left and drew a foul. Doseck hit a foul shot to complete the three-point play and give Anna an 18-8 lead.
Josh Madden hit a basket with 5:15 left in the second to bring Botkins within six points, then Free hit a free throw about 30 seconds later. Carter Elliott hit a 3-pointer and Huelskamp followed with two free throws with 4:01 left, which gave Anna a 23-13 lead. The gap stayed around 10 points for the rest of the half.
“Another thing we talked about at halftime was putting up the shot too quick,” Barhorst said. “I told them that we had to settle down and get the ball moving. Work the offense and get the ball inside. When we get the ball inside to Griffin Doseck, good things happen.”
Botkins returns to action on Saturday at home against Parkway. Anna plays again next Friday at home against Fairlawn.
The Trojans and Rockets will face off in SCAL play again on Jan. 11 in Botkins.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.